By this time last year, North Texans had already suffered through the first string of 100-degree days on the way to a record 71 of them.
It was the start of a brutally hot and dry summer -- and not just in North Texas. The state's average temperature from June through August, 86.7 degrees, was 2.5 degrees warmer than any previous summer in Texas. Texas also had the second-hottest summer on record in the U.S., eclipsed only by last summer in Oklahoma. Looking ahead to this summer, which officially begins at 6:09 tonight, forecasters agree that it won't be as bad, simply because last year was so extraordinary.
But weather-watchers also note that it has been drier than normal since Easter and that so far, this year has been North Texas' second-warmest on record, trailing only 2006.
That dry weather, coupled with the Climate Prediction Center's summer forecast of above-average temperatures and average precipitation, suggests that it'll still be hot -- just not as hot as last summer.
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"Last summer was an outlier -- it was way off the charts," said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby. "You just don't see two summers in a row like that one."
Still, meteorologists say, North Texas could see its first 100-degree day as soon as Sunday. And while winter and spring rains did put more moisture in the ground, which helps keep the temperatures down, droughtlike conditions could follow.
"We're in a tricky spot," Huckaby said. "If anything we'll be heading toward a drought ... but that's pretty typical around here for summer."
As state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon points out, the drought didn't really disappear in most parts of Texas.
"The drought has been going strong and steady in West Texas, especially areas east and north of Abilene," he said. "Many of the reservoirs in Central Texas have not recovered. Texas never really left the drought behind."
One of the hardest-hit areas is Haskell County, about 140 miles west of Fort Worth, which has areas that are still listed as in exceptional drought, the most severe level. The county, the boyhood home of Gov. Rick Perry, has seen about 2 inches of rain in the last two weeks, but that hasn't been enough to end what has become an 18-month-drought.
"Last year was the hottest, driest summer on record and right now we're running a close second," said Haskell County extension agent Wes Utley.
In a pattern seen statewide last year, ranchers there are selling off herds to try to survive the summer. Texas suffered more than $5.2 billion in agricultural losses, which includes the cattle industry, in last year's drought.
"They're doing things like getting down to 30 cows and hoping they have enough hay to get through the next 45 days," Utley said. "They're betting they can get through July and August and make it to the fall rains."
Haskell County farmers are planting cotton, but the heat and high winds make that difficult.
"Those winds will tear up those little cotton plants," Utley said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that about 90 percent of Texas is abnormally dry or in a drought, although the areas experiencing the most extreme drought have decreased over the last three months.
"It's common all over," Nielsen-Gammon said. "It was warm all over this winter, and there's no reason it won't be hot this summer in much of Texas."
Rains have helped
The winter and early spring rains have definitely helped. Texas has avoided a rash of wildfires, lawns and gardens have recovered, and the area's water supply is in far better shape.
As of Tuesday, the Tarrant Regional Water District, which supplies water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, was at 95 percent capacity. At the same time last year, that supply was down to 84 percent, and the water district was already warning of twice-a-week watering restrictions, which took effect at the end of August.
While Dallas made twice-a-week restrictions permanent this year, Fort Worth and Arlington chose not to follow suit after some opposition surfaced. But Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck expressed support for making those restrictions permanent, and the issue could come up again this year.
This year's water demands had been 33 percent less than a year ago, but last summer shows that the region can't take its water supply for granted.
"We need to remain vigilant because we just don't know what the weather holds," said Linda Christie, the water district's director of government and community relations.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698